Q&A with Alan Lerner, Conceptual Artist

Alan Lerner, a Chicago-based musician, screen printer and conceptual artist who makes sculptural and installation works, has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work deals with personal imagery, war, fashion, and political events that shape and define the individual psyche and mass psychology. He has an upcoming show in May at Art on Armitage, a window gallery in Chicago dedicated to exhibitions and installations that redefine street art.

ArtStyle: When did the “intellectual” component of your work begin to develop in your art?

Alan Lerner (AL): In the 1970s, as an undergrad, I started making drawings of actions I would fantasize about but not necessarily accomplish. Many of these planned actions would involve bad manners and behavior on the group level, leaving behind evidence in the form of dirty suburban interiors as a comment on the sterility and purity of the impossibly neurotic standards of daily life. I worked in ceramics for many years, and also designed and built furniture. These activities helped form my ideas of how objects function as art separate from the functional craft object. At the time I did a stint at security at the MCA and used the library there to help form my early experiences as an artist.

An Ocean of Drink
Alan Lerner. An Ocean Of Drink. Acrylic clipboards, paper,
screenprint ink, neoprene, 15' x 15'.

ArtStyle: Where does your personal meaning show up in your work?

AL: I believe artists choose and create the contexts in which they operate in the world around them. I enjoyed art history very much as a study of artists’ roles in the times and strata of society in which they worked. My work is personal in that I am an individual in the large set of individuals who make up a society. Everything is personal in that each individual experiences the world differently through their years of experience that color their reactions to the group.

Examples of these conceptual meanings can be seen in my installation An Ocean of Drink. The associations of meanings and objects define my artwork, which can be diagnosed like diagnosing a person. Rather than being clear, the clip boards are screen printed and displayed with white paper underneath them. The clear plastic clip boards could be glass on a framed drawing or symbolize the process of looking through something or a human to see the internal makeup and psyche.

The conflict of nature and culture is a common theme in my artwork. An obvious symbol of drinking, the bottle could represent alcoholism and dysfunction. The screen printed blue orbs symbolize water and the ocean, which is an image of the ideal. And the white paper under the clipboards could also be seen as the thinnest form of a pedestal for displaying the sculptural work on the floor. In the background, a soft inflated clock functions as a reference to the subjective experience of time, and as a symbol for a bloated, abused self.

Fashion Fascist
Alan Lerner. Fashion / Fascist. Screenprinting ink on
Stonehenge, 30” x 22”.

ArtStyle: Could you describe the dichotomy of fashion and the military in your screen printing?

AL: Fashion / Fascist is a still life composition, with the the background being the screen printed interior of a room with ornate patterned flocked wallpaper, a hanging chandelier, designer bag, and designer perfume bottle. The perfume container, with its form exalting a supreme leader, is based on fascist architecture. The handbag is stylized from high fashion that came out of Italy from the Fascist movement and leading up to and during World War II. “IL Duce” Benito Mussolini, with his ubiquitous image, covers the designer bag much like the Gucci icon or the Luis Vuitton bag does in high-end fashion globally today.

We Will Don Hats and Smite Them
Alan Lerner. We Will Don Hats and Smite Them. Aluminum,
screenprinting ink, velvet rope, inkjet prints, gold rope, shelf
with aluminum molding, 7' x 4' x 6”.

ArtStyle: Could you give me an example of how your installation sculptural pieces are meant to be read by the pubic?

AL: My installation pieces are sculptural objects and images that are about the use of material and associations of the material to the objects. In We Will Don Hats and Smite Them, a velvet theater rope symbolizes authority and crowd control. A crowd is queued up until the rope opens for them to pass through. This is a manipulation of human behavior and is generally an accepted form of manipulation. The screen-printed images of red and white drum majors leading a parade in a civic ritual function much like the military parade as a demonstration of military might and pride, offering hubris as a means of identification with the nationalist urge. There is a farce being portrayed with the men clad in suits marching to the beat without drums. Like the emperor with no clothes, a symbol of our nation’s perverted and abusive use of power, torture and relating to George Bush‘s quotes of “Let’s roll” and “Bring it on,” which are statements for the invitation of mayhem. On the shelf above are paper mock-ups of naval military hats made from the images of the people murdered by war and terror. Worn sideways, they also refer to Napoleon and the impulse of imperialism, or expansion of the national ego.

Alan Lerner. Gurney of Discomfort. Steel, wood, vinyl, upholstery
buttons, wheels, 40” x 84” x 16”.

ArtStyle: How did you construct this piece Gurney of Discomfort, and what does it mean?

AL: I used upholstered furniture on a metal stand with wheels akin to a gurney that moves through a hospital. It is about the idea of treatment and cure, but it is also a critique of Western medical and psychiatric treatment. The V-shape symbolizes a double-edged blade, a mold of victory, or the peace sign. The form references the dichotomy of Western and Eastern concepts of healing. As a part of the technical work of construction of the piece, I checked out books from the library and taught myself how to upholster. To make the piece convincing as a piece of furniture, I also welded the metal frames, which are telescoping in length from smaller to larger, and can be custom fitted to the individual, even though it is a one-size-fits-all mattress.

Alan Lerner may be contacted at albomatic@gmail.com.

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